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Concerts Reviews

Zion80: 25 September 2012

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Live Act(s): Zion80 (@)
Event Date: 25 September 2012
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: The Stone
Promoter/Organizer: John Zorn
Rated: *****
Zion80 is music by a Jewish composer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach played with Fela Kuti inspired arrangements. That combination alone spiked my interest. I had first seen an early incarnation of this ever-changing and developing band at the 6th St Synagogue on Xmas eve of last year and later Zorn assigned Madof the residency, which allowed the band to grow, experiment and build upon the body of work that Madof had chosen. Every Monday an open rehearsal at 7.30 and a show at 9 (different than the usual 8 and 10pm sets) culminating in what was (I heard) one the best and busiest nights conveniently taking everyone into the Yum Kippir celebrations. The band was huge tonight! 18 musicians crowded the performer's area at the Stone: 7 horns (Jessica Lurie on baritone sax, Frank London on trumpet and the master Zorn himself sitting in, just to mention a few), 3 guitar players when you count Madof who skillfully conducted everyone from his Home Depot step stool while ripping a few great solos here and there, 4 percussionists (including Deep Singh and Mathias Kunzli, Madof's bandmate in Rashanim), 1 bassist (Rashanim's other third, Shanir Blumenkranz), 1 keyboard player (Brian Marsella, from Cyro Baptista's Beat the Donkey and Banquet of Spirits) and 2 drummers (Aaron Alexander and Yuval Lion). For those of you who have been to the Stone before you must know that fitting all those musicians in there is an achievement in itself! If to that you add the crowd, sitting, dancing and lining up outside I'd say Madof really succeeded with Zion80, as he deserved to. The project really beautifully bridged musical genres, historical times, geografic areas, cultures and religions in a way that I was used to see at the Stone, but probably even more so on this night. The music was great. Probably some of the most accessible I've ever seen at the Stone (I don't think I had ever seen a crowd dancing there before), it had everyone really engaged and grooving, whether they were sitting on standing.
Look out for their CD being recorded in December and coming out on Tzadik next year.

Jill Tracy: 31 March 2012

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Live Act(s): Jill Tracy (@)
Event Date: 31 March 2012
Type of Event: Theatre Event
Venue: Mütter Museum (@)
Rated: *****
San Francisco-based performance artist Jill Tracy has been around the musical block; as a singer, songwriter, poet and composer, she has worked on movie soundtracks, voiceovers, full musical albums, and been published in numerous magazines. Her performance at the Mütter Museum this past week added another feather to her cap: she is the first musician to receive the Wood grant, which will give her the opportunity to compose music in the museum itself, with the objects (or people, depending on how you define it) there for inspiration.

To back up, the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a medical research museum, and at this most recent event, Tracy performed for a smallish audience who were decked out in 1920s fashion. Looking like a (somewhat gothed out) lounge singer herself, Tracy's breathy vocals, haunting piano music and mournful lyrics fit the speakeasy atmosphere well. As polished as her set was, the most intriguing part of the evening was her encore performance, where she gathered the audience to the front of the stage and performed one of her signature acts, termed 'spontaneous musical combustion.' She asks the audience to share the history of something of sentimental value (grandmother's ring, in this case) present that night, and compose an improved piece then and there.

Listening to her just-composed piano solo and the hushed conversation of the audience around me was a unique moment - the best was certainly saved for last. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see what comes out of her time at the museum.

Emilie Autumn: 17 February 2012

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Live Act(s): Emilie Autumn (@)
Event Date: 17 February 2012
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Recher Theatre (@)
Promoter/Organizer: Melissa King
Rated: *****
After a tumultuous history involving a suicide attempt and consequent institutionalism, Emilie Autumn and her Bloody Crumpets are back on tour and putting on a strong show. With a stage show that is part music, part burlesque, part vaudeville, the band went a full two hours mingling Emilie Autumn's self-written thrashing rock with short acts. The performance of 'Girls! Girls! Girls!' was a classic song for Autumn; combining the elements of old-school vaudeville, scathing commentary on the past exploitation of mental patients and humor, she packs a punch in each composition.

One of the best parts of the show, aside from the flowing choreography, surreal set design and intricate costuming that complimented each number, were the short acts that focused on Autumn and each of her Crumpets in turn. Each had their own distinct personality, and they pulled audience members up on stage for various bits ('teaching girls how to kiss'), performed some Charlie-Chaplinesque skits, and used props to play up the tea-and-crumpets theme, throwing pastries into the crowd and dancing.

After the US leg of her tour, Autumn headed to the UK, and will continue on in Europe - listening to her new track, 'Fight Like a Girl' is definitely ear-catching, but seeing her perform it on stage adds a whole other dimension.

Live Act(s): Fake Hospital, Rene Hell + Mark Lewis, Dracula Lewis, Jaws, DJ Charles Berlitz (@)
Event Date: 21 February 2012
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Ella Street Social Club
Promoter/Organizer: Tiny Gloves
Rated: *****
Ella Street Social club is a former mausoleum in SW Portland, right off of burnside. Its got mad mojo; antiqued light fixtures, red walls, a glowing wurlitzer. The lights are always dimmed, there's booths ringing the walls. The first time i set foot in there, they were spinning The Pixies, then quickly cut to Cab Calloway. There's a sense of time drift, at Ella Street, a place where auditory seances can occur; the veil is thin.

Fake Hospital played the first time i went to Ella Street, so there was a sense of time drift inside of me as well, a rewind. Fake Hospital are nominally Grant Corum and Jefferson Zurna, this evening joined by White Gourd (Suzanne Stone), adding additional ritual saxscapes. The outfit has a distinctive middle-eastern flair, occupying the Interzone, known to play with dream machine, this time they had projections of burning incense, a cloaked figure. Jefferson played clarinet with delay, suzanne sax and the same, with Grant Corum laying down a Marrakesh flea-market beat, crunchy distorted tape beats, like muslimgauze in his prime. They brought the root down stomp, swaying like cobra charmers. The room was as full as i'd ever seen it, everyone was mesmerized. The group consciousness rayed and sparked like Quicksilver spray, and i was reminded, with fresh eyes, what a special venue Ella Street is, and how amazing to get to hear such otherworldly music on a tues. for five bucks.

Rene Hell, a popular noise artist, was joined by Mark Lewis, of Eye Myths, to kick out some broken-circuit jams, the duo casting out rainbow iridescent digital shards, information overload, rumble crumble woofer crunch. The effect is similar to standing beneath a shorting-out neon sign; this was noise music, proper. Unforgiving. At times shrill, at times soothing, yr interior cavities resonating like Stradivarius', it puts you in yr body. It is frequencies cut loose; its not for everybody, but for the initiate, it is revelatory.

The last band that i saw was Dracula Lewis, from Italy, coaxing gnarly industrial beats from a broken mix, a tape-up mic in his back pocket, some other twiddly artifacts, to coax 45 minutes of trashy floor beats. The audience started to move, but the momentum proved to be too great. People were dancing on the inside; i was quietly head-banging in the corner.

The overall experience was one of home-made trance ritual; magick of the flea markets and street corners. Experimental, as in trial and error, as in trying; it sounds cheap and heart-felt. This is the magick of the streets, of the internet junkies. An exotic musical tapestry, embroidered in egyptian silk, but woven of wool. There are opportunities to see a lot of interesting musical experiments in Portland; many times for cheap or free. I give thanks for such opportunities.

Dir En Grey / The Birthday Massacre: 12 December 2011

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Live Act(s): Dir En Grey / The Birthday Massacre
Event Date: 12 December 2011
Type of Event: Small Club Concert
Venue: Irving Plaza
Rated: *****
To pair the synthrock, goth industrial sound of Canadian-based band The Birthday Massacre with the hard rocking, Japanese metal of DIr En Grey was not a likely combination for the former's short tour after the August release of Imaginary Monsters EP, but it worked. Judging from the crowded show at Irving Plaza in New York City, though, the fans thought the combination was a good one.

The gothed-out Birthday Massacre started things off well with a blend of music from their past four albums and, of course, mixed in material from their latest EP. The band's outifis and sound would have been perfectly at home in a Tim Burton movie, and seeing the way the audience was decked out and dancing, it was clear that though this was the opener to Dir En Grey, which was incredibly well-received and played an impressively long set, the crowd was feeling Chibi and Rainbow's smooth vocals and the band's dark, danceable tracks.

The energy of the crowd for both bands was impressive, and it will be interesting to see what The Birthday Massacre records in 2012, as they are taking a break from touring to spend some time in the studio early this year preparing to release more material in the fall.


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